11 APRIL 1992, Page 44




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Odd comparison


In Competition No. 1722 you were in- vited to write a sonnet (Shakespearian in form) beginning 'Shall I compare thee to a. . .?', the object of comparison being an unexpected trisyllable. The most unexpected trisyllables turned out to be Wellington, Rottweiler, palin- drome and haemorrhoid — a frightening firm of solicitors. There was an inexplic- able preference for the letter a, witness analyst, ampersand, aconite, asymptote, autoroute, anorak, Ansafone and artichoke. One of the best opening quat- rains was W. J. Webster's:

Shall I compare thee to a bandersnatch?

Thou art more frumious far and yet more rare;

Thy tongue's a force no vorpal blade could match, Thy voice a sound to perm a Gorgon's hair. . .

The prizewinners, printed below, get £14 apiece, and the bonus bottle of Chivas Regal 12-year-old de luxe blended whisky goes to Moyra Blyth for both angle and poise.

Shall I compare thee to an Anglepoise?

Thou art less flexible, less luminous.

Domestic man this useful aid employs When darkness falls, and activates it thus: A gentle pressure on the dormant switch — `Let there be light!' and light at once appears; Its graceful stance is varied with a twitch, Obediently it shines where'er he steers.

But thou — alas! intractable of limb, Slow in response, connections on the blink, Thy fading ray incorrigibly dim, Thy head (my heart's precursor) prone to sink — To what inglorious future art thou fated, Inert, unwieldy, unilluminated?

(Moyra Blyth) Shall I compare thee to a taxicab?

Queen of the city office, why so pensive? You wish me to explain? I'll have a stab.

(One thing — that dating you is damned expensive — I'm keeping to myself.) That trim dark suit; That splendid chassis with its classic line; The way I sometimes find you off en route To propositions favoured more than mine, But other times no hint of such rejection — Reasons enough? Yet let me add one more: Subtle and swift in changes of direction, Each more perplexing than the one before!

Come, ditch the meter! Let it be just us — And let the other fellows take the bus.

(Michael Lee) Shall I compare thee to a parachute, A bundle of bright silk to which I'm hitched, Mysterious burden, wrapped up, passive, mute, Lifeline and safety net against being ditched? All the potential of a chrysalis Is hoarded in thy subtle packaging: Pulling the ripcord's like a bold first kiss Which lets the butterfly within take wing. Requite me then for taking thee on trust When, strapped together, we make our first jump: Though airborne ecstasies, alas, all must Come down to earth — and sometimes with a bump, We'll reach our seventh heaven, floating free, I in thinc arms and thou upholding me.

(Robert Roberts) Shall I compare thee to a cigarette?

Thou art less lethal and less pale of hue: Robust and sun-kist, thou canst solace yet Those hours when smoke and all things else seem blue.

The gasper satisfies an instant need, And, soon consumed, leaves but a foul dog-end: Thy pleasures are more slow than shrivell'd weed, And, slow to come, are steady to befriend. The starveling fag, soon lit, will soon expire — Ten unrelenting minutes ere it perish — But thou demandest that I tend thy fire, And warmly in return thou wilt me cherish.

Whate'er sour Physic say of Extra Tar, Still am I faithful to my sweet cigar.

(Alyson Nikiteas) Shall I compare thee to a metronome?

I might as well: your everyday tock-ticks — Tick, half past eight to work; tock, coming home Exactly on the stroke of 'News at Six.'

At first the flat unvaried tick-tock life, The speed well-known and, fast or slow, pre-set, Was sometimes found too fixed by me, your wife (Short dissonances in a long duet).

But now, old-fashioned, polished, looking good, Reliable, still working, in your prime, Not wooden but with all the strength of wood, At night you even snore in three-four time.

I play my ragged time to your smooth pace; My syncopated rhythm needs your base.

(D. Roberts) Shall I compare thee to a telephone?

Thou art more constant and more common- place.

A faulty line may hush the dial tone, And gremlins grant a quiet breathing-space; Sometime too soon receivers are replaced; Numbers and codes do alter day by day; Calls may be lost, diverted, never traced, And fascinating voices fade away; But ever buzzeth thy eternal line, And thy persistent droning will not rest; Though office switchboard close from five till nine, No clock can make thee think sweet silence best So long as tongue can speak and ear can hear. Thy ringing tones will vex us far and near.

(Bridget Loney)